Pakistan hangs back from major Swat offensive, talks secretly to Taliban

While by no means a phony war, debkafile‘s military sources report that accounts of a major Pakistan military offensive launched to flush Taliban out of their strongholds in the northern Swat Valley are generally inflated. This is not to say that hundreds of thousands of civilians are not fleeing the valley. Some half a million are on the move and will join the same number displaced since August, generating a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe.
According to our sources, the Pakistani army has so far not fought a single pitched battle with the Taliban. Neither have the insurgents been rooted out of any of the cities and villages under their control.
Islamabad’s one-sided claims of some 200 Taliban killed in three days are not independently confirmed. At most, the Taliban have suffered some 50 dead combatants.
Pakistani troops are attacking Taliban positions with long-range artillery. Three to five warplane and helicopter strikes have been staged at most, as well as heavy machine gun fire on small Taliban groups on the move.
Pakistani prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s statement Wednesday, May 6, that the “armed forces were being called into to eliminate the militants and terrorists” is locally assessed as intended for Western ears rather than their own commanders. It was made when president Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington warding off criticism for not doing enough to fight Islamist terror.
However, our military sources do not at this point see the 15,000 Pakistani troops poised in the Swat Valley actually launching a major offensive against the 5,000 Taliban fighters standing against them.
One reason is that not all the armed men fighting in Swat belong to the Taliban; some are local Swat militia groups whose chiefs have made ad hoc deals with Taliban. It is far from certain that Pakistani troops will want to fight their own countrymen.
Furthermore, according to debkafile sources, the Islamabad government and local insurgent chiefs are in secret negotiation to arrange for the army to move “victoriously” into the main Swat towns of Mingora and Kambar without facing resistance. Taliban would retreat to the countryside, undefeated and with minimal losses. Both sides would then revert to the original deal for the imposition of Sharia law in the province in return for a ceasefire.
The negotiations also provide for Taliban to pull out of Bunar province which is 90 kilometers from Islamabad.
Both sides allowed a refugee catastrophe to develop to generate an eve-of-battle climate – hence the lifting of the curfew for a few hours Sunday, May 10, to encourage the civilian exodus.
A breakdown of these talks may well result in the much-publicized Pakistani military push actually taking off. At the same time, military experts estimate that at least double the number of Pakistani troops deployed at present will be needed to regain control of the Swat Valley from Taliban and its allies.
This extremely volatile situation prompted Gen. David Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command, to remark Saturday, May 9 that it is “too soon to gauge the full magnitude or duration of the Pakistani response.

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